Guess Which Study Photographers Ranked #1 Worst In

Guess Which Study Photographers Ranked #1 Worst In

We've all heard of the stereotype of "the starving artist," but a new study from the UK put concrete numbers on this portrayal, showing that graduates with a degree in photography truly do (on average) become starving artists. Adding insult to injury, the study reveals that photographers are not only on the list, they are ranked the worst for post-graduates making low income. Ouch.

Adzuna, a UK-based job search engine, analyzed more than 120,000 CVs to find which jobs were the lowest-paying five years after receiving their college degrees. The research revealed that photography degrees offer the worst value for money, as graduates earn an average salary of £24,785 ($29,381) five years after graduation.  

On the American side of the research, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report in 2021 that the annual mean wage for photographers is $48,210. 

The average university degree leaves graduates with £45,000 in debt ($53,345). It seems that in the era of the "YouTube Academy," traditional art degrees are hard to justify.

I am one of the few that did complete a degree in Fine Arts. Did my degree pay off? Absolutely. I had requirements not only in film and digital photography, but also in design, composition, and art history that have impacted my work significantly. Would I say that you need a degree to be a successful photographer? Absolutely not. Very few of the greatest works in photographic history came from people who had degrees in the field. Thankfully, I fall significantly outside the mean for the study's salaries. Perhaps my next article should be "Making Great Money in Photography: How to Actually Do It."

The question that naturally comes as one reads this statistic is: "why"? Why do we, as photographers, have the lowest return on investment in our education? Do we underprice our work? Is it related to the trendy topic of "imposter syndrome"? Perhaps it's linked to lowering our prices for fear of not closing the deal? The flip side of "YouTube Academy" is that now, everyone is a photographer. We've all received those responses: "Well, my cousin is a photographer, and he can do it for..." Is it that the increase in the quality of cell phone images has decreased the need for professional or at least semiprofessional work? 

I'm thankful that I fall out outside of the statistic and that my clients see the difference in my work enough to pay more. In cases where clients want the work for less, I find that educating them on the process of creating the images helps them understand the price tag. I've charged several hundred dollars for one shot on numerous occasions. Some charge thousands.

I've found that education pushes prices from what inquirers think it should cost to what is an actual fair price for the time and expertise that go into creating the images.

What are your thoughts? Why do photographers fall into the painful bottom slot in this study? Is there any way to change that? Leave a comment below. Reading your input is always my favorite part of the article. 

Cheers, and happy clicking this week.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Michelle creates scroll-stopping images for amazing brands and amazing people. She works with businesses, public figures, sports & products. Titled “Top Sports Photographers in Miami” in 2019 (#5) and 2020 (#4), she was the only female on the list both years. Follow the fun on IG @michellevantinephotography @sportsphotographermiami

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I'm just talking about my experience and encounters with people. May go to art/photography programs because "it sounds fun", "it sounds easy". In reality, many programs do not prepare one for the real world (again from what I've seen thru my encounters). I'd had many "job shadow" me in my day and almost every one of them was surprised by the mundane subjects. For every Beautiful twilight of spectacular architecture, there are 20 warehouses, loading docks and factories in rough parts of town. Just like a hairdresser, building and maintaining a regular client base (plus always seeking new and bigger jobs) is super important. Again...just my experiences.

"For every Beautiful twilight of spectacular architecture, there are 20 warehouses, loading docks and factories in rough parts of town. Just like a hairdresser…"

That juxtaposition is priceless!

I'm imagining hairdressers fantasizing about working on movie stars and models, but most of their clients are "warehouses and loading docks." :-)

Maybe photography degrees should include or require business courses as part of the curriculum as there are way too many out there that don't know how to figure their costs or what they should charge... shoot and burn